This was the underlying message put forward at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Southeast Asian Movement (SEAM) Conference 2016, held at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on 27 May 2016. Over a hundred high school and college students from ten Southeast Asian nations participated in the event. The HEAD Foundation, which also acted as an advisor to the conference, was one of two sponsors for SEAMConference 2016. Attending the opening ceremony were Chief Executive Officer Mr. Lim Yu Book, Managing Director Mr. David Clegg, Academic Director Professor S. Gopinathan, Head of Operations, Business Development and Public Affairs Mr. Malminderjit Singh, Principal Researcher Dr. Uma Natarajan and Research Assistant Mr. Justin Pereira. Jointly organized by the NUS University Scholars Club and the Yale Student Southeast Asian Movement, the SEAMConference aims to build a network comprising of students, academics and policy-makers to empower youth in thinking critically about the Southeast Asian region. The theme of the SEAMConference this year is “Constructing the ASEAN Identity”, which aims to evaluate the complexities of ASEAN as an entity and thus raise awareness on regional issues. Students were tasked over the following three days to create policy memos to address various themes affecting Southeast Asia (including education, the reduction of social inequality and connecting culture & the arts), all in building a cohesive and unique ASEAN identity. Delivering her remarks at the opening ceremony, the Guest of Honour, U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN Nina Hachigian, highlighted why the region plays an important role in world affairs. She also spoke at length on the growing importance of US-ASEAN relations, and highlighted the excellent partnership between the two partners in terms of trade, security and resolving transnational issues. Ambassador Hachigian also acknowledged the significant role that youth can play in the future of ASEAN as the ideas they contribute can be very powerful and such ideas can change the world as a whole. The first keynote speech was given by Professor Wang Gungwu, Chairman of the Managing Board at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and a renowned historian. In revisiting the ‘idea’ of Southeast Asia, Professor Wang gave a detailed overview of the history of the region, discussing its religious, ethnic and cultural identities and focusing on Southeast Asia’s evolution into a region with a unified persona. In essence, ASEAN’s recognition of its centrality, cooperation and shared values is the reason why it has been successful compared to other regional organisations. Ms Ng Yeen Seen, Chief Operating Office of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Malaysia) (ASLI) gave the day’s second keynote speech on social inequality in Southeast Asia. She touched on issues ranging from gender gaps to poverty, noting that much has to be done in working towards a just and equal society within the region. In doing so, Ms Ng emphasised the need for more human leaders who are not just “smart and hardworking”, but leaders who display compassion and empathy and are ethical in resolving inequality and poverty in Southeast Asian societies. The Conference will end on 30 May 2016.
Every youth in Southeast Asia has a stake in the future and can be agents of change in their own communities.